St Croix, USVIDecember 14, 2016 on the U.S. Virgin Islands
Biggest sail to date: 35nm.
Perhaps the most hectic few days on the trip, St Croix has been a real roller coaster ride!
The island itself pops up from the sea bed like a white man in Tokyo Square. The coastline is home to several stretches of underwater sheer cliffs, some over 2000 feet tall. The ocean floor is said to plummet to over 25,000 feet, making it the second deepest body of water in the world. A diving spectacle not to be missed. Unfortunately for us, it was not to be. Here's why:
The sail itself was rather entertaining. Apparently our crew is not overly accustomed to a rolling sea. Whist making breakfast, Jools decided to embrace the force of the ocean and tackle myself, his cereal bowl and a box of cornflakes from the galley into the head. Not anticipating the force of a grown man's tackle resulted in the both of us dangling off the bathroom door covered in a pool of cornflakes, at the concerned hilarity of the others. Another loss for Jools in Jools vs Boat.
Scott also provided further entertainment with the inevitable onset of seasickness. Forcing his cereal down over the space of around two hours, at a peak pace of three cheerios and two oats per spoonful, Scott couldn't help himself. The fire bucket quickly became the vomit bucket as Scott emptied the contents of his stomach repeatedly for the remainder of the voyage. These actions were cause for concern for the crew as we searched for a cool breeze and a steady horizon. Too late for the seasickness drugs...
Christiansted Harbour is tucked in behind a reef providing a safe haven for boats. Shallow draft boats only it would seem. After scraping through the channels and narrowly avoiding unmarked shipwrecks, we finally found a spot to anchor. Flirting with the bottom seems to be a national passtime here - so many charted anchorages leave you less than three feet clear.
Upon anchoring we discovered a major problem. A weld in our forestay bracket had sheared in the trip over. This had caused the deck of the boat to begin to tear from the hull, and effectively turn the front of the boat into a crocodile's mouth. Major problem. In fact, we were lucky to still have mast!
As the sun set and we mulled our problem over with beer and sunset on the waterfront, our fate sunk in. Prior to even getting an inspection we could tell this was a major. We also began a fruitless search of alternative transport off the island. Literally, the only commercial transport off the island was by seaplane, which only allowed one carry on bag per person. I needn't remind you how much gear we have. We were screwed.
The next morning the admin began. After a myriad of phone calls and internet searches we finally found someone to take a look at the boat. A bloke named George at a nearby marina was our saving grace. Now George had just been shot after an altercation over an outstanding bill, and was currently operating on just three hours sleep, as he had us know. He seemed short fused so we trod carefully, we couldn't blow our only opportunity. Eventually, Jools found some common ground, literally, in Scotland and got George on our side.
He made room for us on the fuel dock and inspected the boat immediately. He deemed it unsailable almost instantly (as we had expected). Great. We immediately consulted with the charter company and it was agreed the boat would be taken out and fixed in St Croix and it would not be ready until the new year...not good.
We still had the option of resuming our charter on Windseeker - we were assured she was fixed - but she was in Tortola and we were about as far from Tortola as you can get...not even the same country!
We spent the whole day trying to resolve this problem. Everyone on the island was friendly but nobody had a clue what they were talking about. Ferries do exist, ferries don't exist. Planes leave all the time, planes never leave. Try this place, this place has closed. How confusing and frustrating...could this be the end of our trip?
Just before dark we had all had our wits end. We were seriously stumped and had resorted to beginning to consume our beer supply - we had to lighten the load somehow! Our only option was to fly two people back to St Thomas. Clear customs, check into BVI by ferry, taxi to the boat, stock her up, wait three days for the wind to settle down, sail six hours to St Croix, reclear US customs, pick up the other two with all the gear, check out and sail back to BVI. It was at five days worth of travel and transport the two of us would do alone. the other two would be twiddling their thumbs in the Caribbean heat...
As we sat there and prepared for the worst, a bloke walked down our dock, notably lost. We sparked a conversation and after some typical boaties chat we discovered he was sailing his boat to Tortola at 8.30am the next day. We all exchanged shooting looks. After probing as to his crew carrying capacity (and explaining our conundrum) he insisted we join him and his crew for the journey and that all of our stuff (ALL our stuff!) wouldn't be a problem. Utterly dumbfounded at the perfect convenience of the opportunity, we gratefully accepted. What a stroke of luck (at last)!
Craig and his boat Cheeky Monkey would be our ticket out. Funnily enough, Cheeky Monkey is also the name of Lou's old boat in Oconomowoc. Coincidence?
Panic mode ensued as we frantically tried to pack up the boat, all the gear, all the food, reload Cheeky Monkey, clear customs and make arrangements for Anne's turn...it was 5pm and we were leaving first thing the next day!
We ferried our gear to Cheeky Monkey that night (many dinghy trips...thanks guys) and got to know the crew over a beer or two (okay, three). They were in the process of rigging brand new sails, and were headed to Tortola for a yacht race on the Saturday. To make this incredible situation even more ridiculous, they were short of crew, I had recent experience in racing 40 footers and all of us happened to be willing to race. Furthermore, they were headed first to customs (where we needed to go) and then planned on spending the next night in Nanny Cay, a short dinghy ride from where Windseeker was currently berthed. So the deal was sealed and we were all very excited for what the next few days would bring. I am still struggling to find words to describe the astoundingly bittersweet contrast of this situation, and how luckily it came about.
Up at the crack the next morning, we devoured the remainder of our refridgerated goods; ham, egg, avo, cheese and onion wraps. After faffing around at customs (seriously, those guys are on a different planet) and dropping off Anne's Turn, we headed out to Cheeky Monkey and began our voyage home - very grateful to be leaving our problems behind and reinforcing the wise decision to charter and not buy. The voyage was fantastic! A motley crew from all walks - a pilot, a mechanic, and two nurses - all ending up in St Croix for the island lifestyle. The beers and rum flowed and the tales of diving, fishing and sailing escalated as the boat ploughed onward. We even got a visit from the local dolphins. Later in the afternoon, Jason caught a fairly decent sized Mahi mahi on the troll and painted the cockpit red with blood whilst filleting it. He was the happiest man I've seen in a while! I should mention we were carrying a full rig in around 20 kts breeze (a hefty heel) and the bloke was half cut and filleting a fish. What a legend. As we arrived in calmer waters, the boat was heading for disarray: seasickness had painted the stern, rum and ginger lined the cabin and cockpit and a few of the boys were heading downhill at the mercy of the dreaded 'boat pour'.
Tortola brought another ordeal with customs, eventually resolved with nothing but a smile and some warm words.
An invitation was extended our way for dinner (said fish) and a race brief, so we hurriedly dinghied our gear from boat to boat. Unable to get a cab to the restaurant, the right thumb scored us a ride in another mariner's car - another stroke of luck. Jason had found us a restaurant and traded half his fish if they would serve us the other half. It was well and truely up there with the most delicious fish I've ever had. It was even good enough to stop us arguing the exorbitant price we paid for our own fish.
Race day morning and our motley crew looked just that. Sifting around for bacon and gatorade, it was clear that having fun was going to be the priority on the water. The wind was, again blowing a solid 20+ with squalls getting up over 25 kts on a regular basis. Craig, backing up the tales of the previous day, again carried a full rig - and a full glass.
It quickly be came evident that only four people on the boat knew how to race (myself and Felicity included). We also discovered, post start, that no one knew the course or the rules. Reassuringly, they also didn't know how to worry, and with that, we were set.
The race weaved around the 'Drakes' - islands adjacent the Sir Francis Drake Channel - and threw hell at us. Squalls came and went like a horse on a carousel bringing stinging rain, powerful breeze and almost zero visibility. Testing conditions. On our approach to the final mark, a small tear in the headsail exploded, ripping leech to luff along the seam of a brand new sail. We couldn't believe it. With no spare headsails aboard we were finished. A really gutting finish to such a fun race. Dwelling in our misery was not an acceptable approach. We pick up our heads, cracked a beer and headed back to port.
The afternoon was spend getting Windseeker ship shape. This didn't take long and we were soon on our way back to Norman Island for the night. We wined and dined aboard like old times sake before rejoining Cheeky Monkey at Willy T's - a floating bar in the anchorage. It got rowdy at a rate of knots and before we knew it we were bombing off the top deck. The next bright idea involved putting eight people in a dinghy and going to explore the nearby caves under the moonlit sky. Phosphlouresence glowed in the wake of the dinghy, before plunging into darkness inside the caves. Moving inward with our hands on the walls was cause for hilarity - coordination was impossible. It was a fantastic night with some fantastic new friends and we waved their sorry souls goodbye the next morning from a distance. They'd breathed life into our adventure with so much enthusiasm, we couldn't wait to continue the journey!Read more